Book report: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanI have been having excellent luck with my reading list the last couple of years. I’ve read several books that I can say without exaggeration have been life-changing for me. From lifestyle and time saving tricks of The Four Hour Work Week, to the wakeup call about survival in future uncertainty of Emergency, to other great books I’ve read recently by Kurzweil, Coyle, and Matt Taibbi, I’m reading for self improvement and understanding of the world and taking extreme pleasure in the puzzle pieces of life starting to click together with increasing speed in mind.

The most recent book I’ve read that will change the course of my life, perhaps more than all the others, is The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It’s a food book which exposes the reality of the American food industry, and in a muckraking sort of way is very effective, but the book is more than just an exposé. It’s more of a reminder of the enormous importance of food in one’s life and a general manifesto of a new way of looking at what’s on your plate. Or, in the fast food wrapper of the new American species, Obesitus Americanus.

We in America don’t think about food very often or in much depth. We have no idea what we’re eating is made of, where it’s from, and what fed it before. Although the answer to what makes up a large majority of an average American’s world leading 3754 calories per day is easy. It’s corn.

Ahhh, corn. I have searched high and low to find the culprit for the transformation of American chicks from cute, lean, long haired, natural, thin, cool hippy chicks of the America of the 1970s to the overweight, entitled, fake-boobed, retarded, Kardashian-Hilton-Snooki-imitating, sweatpants-wearing, mouth-breathing wildebeest of 2012. It is one of the many great tragedies to befall America in the period coinciding with my lifetime. Sorry guys, my bad, it was my fault.

It all starts with the corn subsidies by our government that guarantees a certain price floor for corn. That makes every farmer in Iowa want to buy special Monsanto genetically modified (“GMO”) corn seeds, line his field with petroleum based nitrate fertilizer, and grow cities of corn that cover vast swaths of the Midwest every summer. The huge oversupply of corn results in full grain silos everywhere come harvest time, with piles of corn nearly overflowing the silos sitting out in the elements.

The food industry, that paid almost nothing for this corn (the majority of the corn is paid for by the taxpayer), has mountains of corn and then they “add value” to it by putting it into giant chemical vats that “digest” it into more basic, corn based “sugars” and “carbs” and “oils” and then inject it into Chicken McNuggets, sweeten Coke with it, fry potatoes in, synthesize Twinkies, etc, etc, etc. Corn is in nearly everything these days, poisoning us and making us fat. The average American now eats a thousand more calories daily than the rest of the world, and an extremely high percentage of those are processed corn calories.

In his book Pollan tracks 4 different types of American meals, as best as he can, from seed to plate (or fast food wrapper). The four types:

1. A typical fast food meal from McDonalds.

2. A meal prepared shopping from Big Organic, i.e. Whole Foods.

3. A meal from a local, sustainable farm.

4. A meal provided from foraging and hunting.

The first meal that Pollan investigates is the fast food meal, and holy shit. Now I’ve been what I considered to be pretty healthy the last several years. I generally eat vegetarian (except for fish), I work out regularly and am in good shape, I don’t smoke cigarettes, I smoke my weed with a vaporizer, I do lots of yoga, and I try to get plenty of sleep. So before reading this book, I thought it was ok if I was traveling or out late drinking to drop by a fast food joint every now and then. I mean, as Raul said to me once, “McDonalds is delicious. If it were good for you I’d eat there every day.”

But now, I will never eat that shit again.

Back to corn. These mountains of genetically modified corn sitting outside also form the base of the diet of all the meat we eat here in America. After their youth, the cows are moved to giant cities called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) where they stand around in their own shit all day and eat 35 pounds of corn mixed with lifqufied animal protein, growth hormones, and antibiotics. Don’t worry, it’s not liquified cow protein, that would be unhealthy! No the USDA makes them use liquified pork and chicken bits for the protein for health reasons. After fattening up on this toxic corn cocktail for two or three months, they head to the slaughterhouse, and then to you. That, dudes, is what passes for “beef” in America.

Cows aren’t even supposed to eat corn. They’re supposed to eat grass, and clover, and things like that, which then are broken down in their rumens. Unlike human stomachs, cow stomachs do not have acid but are neutral pH. The corn gives them very unhealthy bloating and is also leading to new strains of acid-resistant foodborne pathogens like super-E-coli and the like.

They feed this corn-hormone-antibiotic cocktail to chickens, stuffed into crates so small they can’t turn around, to pigs that have their tails clipped so they won’t go crazy when the pig behind them chews on their tail out of the stress and daily suffering of a CAFO. This is for an animal with comparable intelligence to a 2-year old child. They even feed corn to fish now, so your salmon at TGI Fridays is probably made from corn now too.

The vast majority of food consumed by Americans is poison. I don’t know any better word to describe it that that. If Mom was right, and “You are what you eat”, then a majority of Americans are made from corn digested in giant chemical vats or cows standing around in their own shit.

One thing I notice when I come back from abroad is how unhealthy Americans look. Obesity everywhere, and even the non-fat people have this haggard, run down look from this horrible poison, not sleeping enough, working all the time, and stress. Americans just look sick to me these days. The rot on the inside of American society is starting to show on the outside.

Manuel adds:

If you are too damn lazy to read the book you can glean a lot of the same information by watching the documentatires “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn”. The food supply in the US is nothing short of appalling. Just for fun you should also read about what Monsanto (the same guys that make the corn!) GMO soy does to hamsters. Hint it’s fun stuff like infertility, early death and hair growing in their mouths!

Charlie Bushmeister

Call me Charlie. I decided to join with others to write this blog because I feel that I have learned a lot about how to succeed in life in general. It took a lot of trial and error and I've developed a wealth of philosophies, skills, and tricks of the trade that would be very useful to like minded guys out there. There's no need to repeat my mistakes, of which I have made many, instead I urge you to read this blog, absorb and practice its lessons, and then go out and have the most awesome life, on your own terms. To me that means good health, success in your career, the number and type of relationships you want, and general satisfaction that you're not wasting your life spinning your wheels, but going forward always towards your goals.

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